Get your health information from reliable sources

Stick with official sources on health information - rather than second or third hand data, says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll
Get your health information from reliable sources

Get your health information from a trusted source, says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll. Picture: Stock

WE are bombarded on a daily basis with health information, from every sort of source. Advice about how to maintain health, data about the most up to date treatments, and opinions about what the best course of action is in case of illness.

It is important to be able to differentiate between general, generic, or less reputable sources of information and the more detailed, evidence-based ones.

Social media is a minefield, and not to be taken at face value without further research. Family members and friends often give sound advice if they’ve been in similar health situations themselves, but beware of old wives’ tales and outdated information. They are not qualified to diagnose or prescribe based on their own experience, as everybody’s health journey is unique.

Mums to young children in particular constantly have to sift through all the ‘expert’ advice they receive about why their baby isn’t sleeping, or the cause of their asthma or reflux, and how to treat it. Politely acknowledging the advice offered, but taking appropriate steps to seek professional advice on any of these or other ailments, is important for maximum benefits.

Below are examples of useful information sources to rely on when it comes to informing healthcare choices for you and your family.

Product information leaflet (PIL) – it’s important when using medicines for yourself or younger members of the family, to refer to the guidance provided. If the medicine is prescribed by the doctor, then the dosage is indicated on the label that the pharmacy dispenses the product with.

For over-the-counter medication dosage, or to just learn more in general about any medicine (prescribed or otherwise), the product’s official information is available in the product information leaflet.

For medicines that you cannot locate this leaflet for, you can usually access it on the Health Product Regulatory Authority website hpra.ie by searching by product name.

Information such as what the product is used for, the best way to store and dispose of it, and side effects to expect or watch out for are all detailed here.

Official websites – sites that are government, HSE or health organisation funded, are more reliable than other types of blogs.

Undertheweather.ie, for example, is a very useful resource for common illnesses such as sore throat, cough, flu, earache, sinusitis, diarrhoea, vomiting, rash or temperature. If in doubt, concise guidance is provided here for these ailments and more.

For those suffering from long term or debilitating illnesses, the supports provided by some of these websites are invaluable, such as the online community at cancer.ie, or the vast amount of information provided at irishskin.ie

Health insurance help lines – for those with health insurance, either paid for personally or provided by your employer, you may not be aware that many of these policies now include 24 nurse lines, and some even give GP or dietician/psychologist access.

It’s worth checking what your package includes, and you may be pleasantly surprised. There is often valuable support to avail of that you’ve already paid for. Particularly during pregnancy, this support may be boosted with midwife calls and advice.

In-person healthcare advice – the bottom line across all of this is to link in directly with your own healthcare provider by visiting or calling them. GPs and pharmacists who know you and your health background can take a full history, and advise accordingly in cases where only generic information can otherwise be provided.

Recognising the reliability or otherwise of health information sources can be difficult, but sticking with official sources rather than second or third hand data is the safest option.

Using information tailored to your specific situation instead of trying to transpose generic advice onto your query is the best approach, and linking in with your healthcare provider directly is the most appropriate choice overall.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company.

Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See intuition.ie

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